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Why do we have multi-age classes at EHS?

The first month of the school year has somehow flown by at Eric Harvie School! Perhaps it is because the weather has still felt like summer for most of the past month, however it is more likely part of all that we try to pack into the crucial first month of the school year. Teachers find ways to learn more about each learner and their learning strengths and areas for improvement. They also work to develop the routines and habits that will help lead to more effective learning in the months to come. Ultimately, they are focused on putting the building blocks in place for a community of learners that can work together for effective academic learning and to build social skills and connections.
At Eric Harvie School, we choose to have our grade 1-4 classrooms in multi-age groupings. This has been part of Eric Harvie School since it first opened six years ago, and I wanted to share some of the reasoning behind why we are continuing to use this approach this year. It is important to note that our goal and vision is that these classrooms are true examples of multi-age learning - meaning that it is a pedagogical choice intended to help meet the unique needs of learners at different developmental levels - rather than being a multi-grade or “split” classroom where two grade levels of students are put together primarily as a result of the number of students at each grade level not being compatible to reasonable class sizes, and the two grade levels learn mostly independent from each other.
From my perspective, it is important to gather a wide range of sources of information in looking at a decision about classroom organization, and looking at academic research needs to also be combined with observations, data and evidence of what it is actually looking like at EHS. 
As with many debates in education, looking at the differences between “straight grades” and multi-age classes has been happening for many years, and as a result some of the research is now becoming quite dated. My own research into the advantages and drawbacks to multi-age learning environments has found that the academic gains of learners in a straight grade level classroom versus a multi-age classroom are essentially equal. The gains that are identified in multi-age classrooms focus on social and emotional learning, which are directly tied into the community of learners that the teacher actively crafts in their classroom.
I wanted to share with you a few of the different sources of information that led to me wanting to share this information with our families (two more traditional and one a bit off the path!) I will also share why I see these sources being part of the puzzle in our approach to multi-age learning at EHS:
The Modern Multi-Age Classroom
This article gives a glimpse into a grade 1-3 multi-age setting, and provides a great look at how a multi-age classroom can focus on meeting individual needs of where each child is at, while keeping a strong focus on building the thinking skills and competencies that develop strong future learners. In my observations of our classrooms, we look to create the classroom culture of the “family” working together that is also described in this article.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Multi-Age Classrooms
This article presents a balanced, research based look at multi-age classrooms while taking into account the era of high-stakes testing in the US that came with the “No Child Left Behind” legislation. While Alberta is not all the way over on that end of the spectrum of mandated testing at this point, the weighing of the pros and cons is interesting to consider. Here is one key quote that exemplifies our approach at Eric Harvie School: 
“The strength of multiage education is its emphasis on the learning styles and progress of each student. When implemented with fidelity and reflective of best practice, multiage classrooms can provide a learning environment where students flourish — but positive outcomes are not guaranteed in the absence of appropriate administrative and instructional support.”
Gladwell Revisionist History - Outliers Revisited
This source may seem a bit off the map, however, it was listening to this podcast, and seeing and hearing about all the sport “tryouts” that so many children are going through this month that made some connections for me. In many ways, the design of a multi-age class is intended to provide more opportunities for re-grouping and targeted teaching to meet learners where they are developmentally at. While we still need to evaluate each child’s learning against the specific grade level outcomes for their grade level, using formative assessment to target the specific skills and areas of learning that each child needs to develop helps ensure we help them move forward from their current learning. In addition, I appreciate that this podcast helps me to understand why my October birthdate was such a critical part of me being unable to make the NHL!!  
As a school leadership team, we will continue to take a look at all aspects of how we organize for learning with a critical eye to help ensure that how we set up our learning community meets the growing and changing needs of our learners.

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Eric Harvie School

357 Tuscany Drive NW Calgary, AB, T3L 3C9
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Ben Strand
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Lesley Tait
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Michael Nelson
Dana Downey

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